‘Defending CJ a tough job’
THE DEFENSE TEAM
The man at the center of the country’s latest political blockbuster may be present when the curtain goes up in the Senate session hall that will be turned into a courtroom on Monday.
Chief Justice Renato Corona is expected to appear at the start of his impeachment trial in the Senate even as his lawyers admitted that defending him would be a heavy burden.
Corona’s presence in the trial is proof that the embattled Chief Justice “has nothing to hide,” contrary to the public perception that he will try to evade public scrutiny on his supposed illicit acquisition of multimillion-peso properties on which data were released to the media by the prosecution ahead of the trial, the lawyers said.
“He wants to face his accusers and show respect to the Senate as an impeachment body,” Ramon Esguerra, a former justice undersecretary and a member of the defense panel, told the Inquirer over the phone.
“The Chief Justice will go there in the Senate. That’s the consensus,” he said in a mix of Filipino and English.
“Although some lawyers expressed reservations, nobody actually advised him not to go. They were just concerned that the Chief Justice may just be humiliated if he comes. We want to avoid that situation.”
Esguerra said former Associate Justice Serafin Cuevas, Corona’s lead counsel, had suggested that it would be better if the Chief Justice would appear personally in the Senate.
“His presence also shows that he has nothing to hide and that he respects the impeachment process,” the lawyer added.
But another defense lawyer, Tranquil Salvador III, said: “I cannot say categorically if the Chief Justice will be there. We’re still deciding if there’s a need for him to be there.”
Nonetheless, Salvador said the defense was prepared to counter the accusations that the Chief justice was guilty of culpable violation of the Constitution, betrayal of public trust and graft and corruption embodied in eight articles of impeachment.
Conviction in just one of the eight articles would be sufficient to oust Corona.
In an intimate gathering with his family and legal team last week, Corona said he was preparing for the worst, including the possibility of conviction.
“I expect to be maimed here … But let it not be said that I have not stood up to defend the institution that I represent,” Esguerra quoted Corona as saying to the gathering.
“We’re all ready. Each member was given the proper assignments,” said Salvador.
According to Esguerra, a 9 a.m. Mass on the Supreme Court grounds will highlight the sendoff ceremony for Corona and his legal team. He said the group would proceed to the Tañada Room of the Senate at around noon for the 2 p.m. start of the impeachment trial.
Lack of verification
Eduardo delos Angeles, one of the most senior lawyers in Corona’s powerhouse team, will deliver the opening statement for the defense, Esguerra said.
“We will push for a hearing for our affirmative defense concerning the lack of verification of the (articles of impeachment),” he said.
Esguerra said he was tasked to handle the second article of impeachment (culpable violation of the Constitution for nondisclosure of statement of assets, liabilities and net worth) and the eighth article (refusal to account for Judicial Development Funds, special allowances and other court collections).
“This is no ordinary case. I know I may have to stay in the Senate as late as 9 in the evening just to argue our point,” Cuevas told the Inquirer. “I’m already 83 and I’m not getting any younger. I know this is a big burden for me.”
Cuevas said he had initially expressed reluctance at heading the defense team, but relented after Corona’s wife Cristina wept and pleaded with him to join the battery of over 30 seasoned litigation lawyers.
Cuevas was appointed to the high court by the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos on June 1, 1984. But he resigned after a popular uprising ended the Marcos dictatorship two years later.
“The attacks (on Corona) were directed against the Supreme Court and it pains my heart being a former associate justice,” Cuevas said.
“What they (House prosecutors) were saying were not true. The Chief Justice cannot prevail over the members of the court.”
He also doused speculation that his decision to join Corona’s defense team was an indication that the Chief Justice has the support of the influential Iglesia ni Cristo.
“The perception of the people is that wherever Cuevas goes, there goes the Iglesia ni Cristo. But I’m only a member of the church. I happen to be a chief legal counsel of the Iglesia. But I’m not a minister or a deacon.”
As lead counsel, Cuevas said he would conduct the cross-examination of all the prosecution witnesses.
Also on Sunday, Alan Paguia, a former counsel of ousted President Joseph Estrada, said the senators should treat the articles of impeachment against Corona as an “unsigned pleading” because they were not verified.
Paguia, in a position paper released to the Inquirer, said representatives violated the Constitution when they signed and submitted the articles of impeachment to the Senate without first verifying them.
He recalled that the House rules on impeachment specifically provide that verification shall state: “that the allegations therein are true of our own knowledge and belief on the basis of our reading and appreciation of documents and other records pertinent thereto.”
This statement of verification was also contained in the articles of impeachment signed by the House members.
However, Paguia pointed out that the Rules of Court—promulgated by the Supreme Court and adopted by the Senate for the trial—specified the manner by which a pleading may be verified.
“A pleading is verified by an affidavit that the affiant has read the pleading and that the allegations therein are true and correct of his personal knowledge or based on authentic records,” he quoted Rule 7 of the Rules of Court as stating. With a report from Jerome Aning
Sources: Inquirer Archives, Inquirer Research Archives, vjudiciary.gov.ph,law.ateneo.edu, rmbsa.com, ustcivillaw.com, srmo-law.com, ibp.ph
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